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Today’s guest post is by one of my favorite fitness bloggers, Mark Sisson. Mark is the author of The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram your genes for effortless weight loss, vibrant health, and boundless energy. As a proponent of the primal lifestyle, Mark’s theories of primal nutrition and fitness have been embraced by the fitness community. Mark has contributed a great piece today that debunks common myths perpetuated my the mainstream nutrition community about foods that are “bad” for us. May is paleo month here at DailyBurn, and we welcome Mark’s thoughts about primal nutrition.
From what I understand, it’s Paleo month at Dailyburn. Since I know a little something about evolutionary nutrition and fitness, I was asked to contribute a piece on healthy foods that get a bad rap despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. These are the foods your mother warned you about, your doctor forbids, and your dietitian shakes her head at. They’re also, ironically, the foods that you never see unsuccessful dieters eating. Anyway, without further ado:
Toss your margarine (hydrogenated vegetable oil), your “buttery spread” (an appetizing mixture of soybean and canola oils extracted and oxidized by industrial solvents to form a tub of fridge-spreadable butter substitute), your liquid vegetable oils, and embrace the butter. Why?
Butter is rich in healthy, heat-stable saturated and monounsaturated fats, the body’s preferred fats for energy. After all, human adipose tissue is mostly saturated and monounsaturated fat; it is literally how the body chooses to store energy for later use. Excess glucose is even converted into palmitic acid, a saturated fat, before storage. If saturated fat were toxic, why would our bodies produce it in large quantities for energy storage?
Grass-fed butter is also a good source of omega-3 fats and extremely low in omega-6 fats. Sure, it’s not the same as eating fatty fish, but as long as you’re avoiding omega-6 fats in large amounts, you don’t need a whole lot of omega-3s. Oh, there’s also CLA in grass-fed butter, a naturally occurring trans-fat with potential anti-cancer properties.
Last, but not least, is vitamin K2, an oft-ignored micronutrient that’s been getting a lot of buzz lately. Recent clinical trials of K2, which is produced by the fermentation of plant material in the stomach of ruminants (like cows, lamb, or sheep), reveal potent anti-osteoporosis, anti-cancer, and anti-atherosclerosis effects. Unfortunately, the puny stomachs of humans can’t produce much K2 from green material, but grass-fed butter (and cheese) is one of the better sources.
The white is just a boring, nutritionally-bereft, protoplasm-looking collection of proteins, while the egg yolk contains all the stuff that eventually turns into an actual chicken. All the vitamins and micronutrients and fat and protein that go into putting together a chicken, in bite sized form. I cringe when people throw away egg yolks. As far as I’m concerned, without the yolk, there is no egg.
Egg yolks are a rich source of choline, a micronutrient necessary for fat metabolism and lipid clearance from the liver; choline, in rodent studies, protects against fatty liver. Choline is also the precursor to acetylcholine, an important brain chemical in the formation and retention of memory. Yolks also contain plenty of pre-formed vitamin A, which our body absorbs far better than beta-carotene, vitamin E, vitamin K2, as well as some omega-3 fatty acids. If you can get ‘em, look for eggs from pastured chickens allowed free reign to munch on bugs, wild seeds, and grasses; they’re a lot more nutrient-dense than regular eggs.
If you’re worried about cholesterol, don’t. Egg yolks do not adversely affect cardiovascular health.
The poor, poor mac nut has gotten a terrible rap over the years. It’s high in fat to the point of being oily to the touch, and it has a buttery, smooth texture when bitten. And since everyone knows foods that taste good are bad for us, the macadamia nut was branded as the world’s most unhealthy nut.
Now, though? It’s the next health craze. It contains more monounsaturated fat than even olive oil. While its more polyunsaturated brethren – walnuts, almonds, and various nuts and seeds – have the tendency to oxidize in the face of heat, the macadamia nut stands up well against roasting. In fact, its oil beat all other nut and seed oils in a test of oxidative stability under high heat. It’s low in omega-6 fats (which we get way too many of in the standard American diet already), high in magnesium, manganese, thiamine, copper, and iron. And if you’re still worried about all that fat, macadamia nuts are rich in a fatty acid called palmitoleic acid, which actually improves blood lipids.
Most importantly, though, they taste great. I can’t think of a better snack.
Liver is “bad” on two levels. Most people hate the taste, probably due to childhood force-feeding of overcooked, powdery beef liver, and most health officials recommend against “all that cholesterol” in liver. I hold that people are cooking it wrong and that the “experts” have it wrong. Also, if you’re going Paleo, you have to eat the entire animal (http://www.marksdailyapple.com/organ-meats/). Our ancestors prized the liver above all other meats, and for good reason.
First, the cooking. Never overcook liver. This dries it out, concentrates the strong flavor, and leads to a chalky, unappealing texture. Nobody likes dried liver, but everyone overcooks it, which is why everybody thinks they hate liver. You don’t hate liver. You just haven’t had it cooked right. Cook down some shallots in butter, sear salted-and-peppered liver on both sides in the same pan, and be careful not to overcook. When you slice into it, it should still be pink and moist on the inside – about medium to medium rare.
Now, nutrition. A good friend of mine calls liver “nature’s multivitamin,” and I’m inclined to agree. Just a single 4-ounce serving of beef liver provides high levels of vitamin A, choline, B-vitamins, selenium, folate, protein, and zinc, to name just a few. And we already went over dietary cholesterol’s benign nature.
Even if you can’t learn to love liver, a meager four to six ounces each week isn’t a big burden, and it will be a huge boon to your health if you start eating it.
Extra Dark Chocolate
By now, everyone’s heard that dark chocolate is supposed to be the healthier choice. Maybe you reach for the Hershey’s Special Dark, or the semisweet kisses, and think you’re doing the right thing. Well, you’re not. You need to go a bit deeper, a bit darker. Think dark chocolate with 85% cacao content and a low sugar content. If you’re up for it, think pure 100% raw cacao powder.
Cacao is one of the richest sources of dietary polyphenols, richer even than the current health darlings, green tea and red wine. Stick to less-processed, higher quality dark chocolate with a higher fat and lower sugar content, preferably not Dutch-processed, as this can negatively affect the polyphenol content. Unsweetened cacao powder is even better, so think about having a cup of real hot cocoa sometime. Chocolate is also high in stearic acid, a saturated fat shown to improve lipid numbers.
Real dark chocolate takes some getting used to, especially if you’re coming from the hyper-sweet world of milk chocolate, so ease into it. As you reduce overall sugar consumption, however, I think you’ll find that even the darkest chocolate tastes sweet enough. You’ll also notice subtle hints of other flavors, like vanilla, oak, or cherry; cacao is like wine that way. There’s a very real chance you’ll become a full-fledged chocolate snob.
Paleo May is about resetting your taste buds. It’s about trying new (old) foods that may take some getting used to. It’s also about reveling in long-forbidden fare. Either way, you’re going to be eating foods that either taste “bad” or are “bad” for you. Try the aforementioned five and see for yourself if the myths hold true. I suspect they won’t.
Next time you visit a diner, ask for a liver and egg yolk omelet, cooked in butter, a side of macadamia nuts, and an 85% cacao chocolate bar for dessert. Also, if you manage to find a diner that serves all that stuff, please, by all means – send me the address!
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